AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 23: (R-L) Dan Hooker of New Zealand and Paul Felder trade punches … [+]
On paper, UFC Fight Night 168 in Auckland, New Zealand didn’t look like a major event, but thanks to some excellent fights, memorable performances and top-notch atmosphere, it was strong.
Dan Hooker sent the fans home happy with a split-decision win over Paul Felder in the main event, but there was more to talk about after this show.
Here are my five major takeaways from UFC Auckland.
Auckland, New Zealand is One of the Best Regions For the UFC
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 02: Jimmy Crute of Australia celebrates after his submission victory … [+]
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The energy in the crowd for nearly every fight was excellent on Saturday.
Things went to another level when a local fighter like Brad Riddell, Jimmy Crute or Hooker climbed into the Octagon. This kind of environment is great for the continued growth of the promotion and the sport.
There are so many promising fighters from the region that it’s easy to imagine things will continue to grow as it relates to the New Zealand MMA scene.
Angela Hill Means Business
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 23: (L-R) Angela Hill punches Loma Lookboonmee of Thailand in their … [+]
If there was a title for the hardest-working woman in MMA, Angela Hill would have to be the undisputed champion.
On Saturday, Hill won her third fight in a row, second in less than 30 days, and the fight was her sixth in less than 12 months.
Hill took down Loma Lookboonmee with a unanimous-decision win and the 35-year-old improved to 12-7 in her career. Her latest victory could land Hill in the Top 15 when the newest rankings are released, and that could lead to a matchup with a ranked opponent later this year.
Song Kenan is a Finisher
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 23: (L-R) Song Kenan of China punches Callan Potter of Australia in … [+]
Fighters who can finish have more appeal, and Song Kenan is one of those guys.
On Saturday, he blasted Callan Potter with some vicious punches that led to a first-round KO victory.
The 29-year-old Chinese welterweight is a potential superstar who could be in line for a serious challenge and spotlight fight in his next UFC appearance.
He’s 4-1 in the UFC , and it might be time for him to see a serious step-up in competition.
Yan Xiaonan Continues Surge of Chinese Excellence in the UFC
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 23: Yan Xiaonan of China celebrates after defeating Karolina … [+]
The UFC’s efforts to grow their brand in China is working, and it is helping to produce some amazing talent from the region.
Weili Zhang is the reigning UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion. Song is performing well, and Yan Xiaonan did her part to continue the surge on Saturday.
In a rugged battle with Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Yan proved to be too strong and well conditioned. She secured five takedowns and outlanded Kowalkiewicz 157 to 151.
Yan earned the unanimous-decision victory to further establish China as one of the newest major hotbeds for UFC talent.
Dan Hooker’s Callout is a Tall Task
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – FEBRUARY 23: Dan Hooker of New Zealand reacts after his split-decision … [+]
No one can accuse Hooker of cherry picking opponents.
Coming off a grueling match with Felder, Hooker immediately called out Justin Gaethje for his next bout.
Gaethje is seemingly the new boogeyman in the lightweight division. It seems no one, not even Conor McGregor, wants to face Gaethje.
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – SEPTEMBER 14: Justin Gaethje celebrates after defeating Donald … [+]
A Hooker-Gaethje scrap has Fight of the Night written all over it, but the latter has made it clear he wants a title shot or McGregor. He may not get either, and could ultimately settle for a fight with Hooker some time later this year.